25th Oct 2016

Syria to EU: tackle Israel, not Egypt for Middle East peace

  • Damascus mural. Syrian ambassador: 'When people saw the example of Iraq, they wanted stability above all else' (Photo: CharlesFred)

The EU should take firm action against Israeli settlement-building and human rights abuses instead of playing politics in Egypt if it wants to calm tension in the Middle East, Syria's ambassador to the Union has said.

Speaking to EUobserver in Brussels on Wednesday (16 February), Mohamad Ayman Soussan said the main danger of conflict in the region comes from the Arab-Israeli problem not the revolution in Egypt or Tunisia.

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"Our European friends have a responsibility here, because Europe is the principal economic partner of Israel. They have all the means at their disposal to make Israel reconsider its position vis-a-vis international law. Europe must assume this responsibility if it ever intends to take its rightful place in the international order," he explained.

"Where in Europe do you see such a level of brutality against demonstrators? Where do you see roads that can be used only by one kind of people? Israel practices apartheid and the EU assists this everyday through its ongoing relations."

The ambassador added that outside forces - including Syria, the EU and the US - have no rightful say on Egypt's new government.

"We have full confidence in the Egyptian people. They sacrificed almost 500 lives for this revolution and I believe the people of Egypt know very well what they must do ... democracy cannot be a la carte," he said. "One has to treat the people of this region as adults, not as children."

Asked if post-revolutionary Egypt could become hostile toward Israel, he noted that ordinary Egyptians never shared the Mubarak regime's pro-Israeli line. "The peace with Israel was always cold. There is a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. But this was never a real peace," he said.

Mr Soussan did not hide his antipathy toward the Israeli authorities. Asked if there is a risk that Egypt could let arms flow to Hamas in Gaza, he countered: "Was support for the European resistance against the Nazis a crime?"

The ambassador said that EU countries played a negative role in events leading up to the Egyptian and Tunisian upheavals.

"The two regimes which fell were Europe's foremost allies. There was a feeling of discontentment in these two countries about the foreign policy orientation of the two regimes," he said. "I wouldn't go that far [as to blame the EU or the US for the revolutions]. But I would ask, were the Europeans faithful to their values in supporting these regimes?"

Going back further to selected EU countries' support for the US invasion of Iraq, Mr Soussan said the Iraq war put a brake on the reform process in the Arab world.

"After the invasion in 2003, stability became the main priority of all the countries in the region. We did not want to become a second Iraq. When people saw the example of Iraq, they wanted stability above all else. They wanted to know that when they left home in the morning, their country would still be there when they returned at night."

On the internal situation in Syria, the ambassador admitted there is a need for reform and that there is a "small group" which is unhappy with President Bashar al-Assad.

But he pointed to the fact that 50,000 Sunni Muslims peacefully celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed at a ceremony with the president in Damascus on Tuesday as a sign that there is no uprising on the cards.

On the one hand, the EU embassy in Damascus on Wednesday said it "profoundly regrets" the jailing on spy charges of a 19-year-old blogger called Tal Al-Mallouhi. And EU diplomats in the region say the country's security forces keep down dissent.

But on the other hand, the EU welcomed Damascus' recent decision to end a years-long blockade on Facebook and YouTube. The Union is in advanced negotiations on an Association Agreement with Syria and EU diplomats say that Syrian society is relatively open in terms of free speech and freedom of worship.

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